Clearwater's downtown revitalization effort is months behind schedule. Its leaders still want to be thorough.

The city council's challenge: how best to strike the balance between timeliness and thoroughness?
The Imagine Clearwater project will massively reshape the waterfront, but continuing questions are keeping the project moving at a slow pace.  [Luis Santana | Times]
The Imagine Clearwater project will massively reshape the waterfront, but continuing questions are keeping the project moving at a slow pace. [Luis Santana | Times]
Published April 29
Updated April 30

CLEARWATER — When it comes to redeveloping downtown Clearwater, the City Council doesn't want to hear any more about delays.

The council does, however, have its share of questions about the $50 million project. Those questions need answers. And those answers, sometimes, cause delays.

It has already been nearly two years since the city fast-tracked Imagine Clearwater, the ambitious, costly redevelopment of the downtown waterfront. The plan is to build a new garden in what is now Coachman Park; a concert venue and green where there is currently a parking lot; a lake under the Memorial Causeway; a half–mile Bluff Walk with shaded paths, gardens and terraces; a gateway plaza with water features and event space at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue; and mixed use developments on the former Harborview site and the currently vacant City Hall.

Read more: After six-month delay, City Council unites behind 4,000-seat covered concert venue for Imagine Clearwater

The city has made some progress in that time, but the project still looks to be months behind schedule.

Clearwater has yet to commission a fully fleshed out design plan for the project. (Officials are expected to do so later this month.)

The city has made no formal call to developers to submit building proposals for the charter-protected Harborview and City Hall. No referendum about the proposals for those parcels has been scheduled or even discussed in earnest by the council. The city doesn't even know yet how most of Imagine Clearwater will be funded.

Before any of that can happen, the council needs to iron out some details. Monday's council work session with city planners showed that can be easier said than done.

One major issue discussed Monday had to do with a proposed downtown walkway that would run near Water's Edge, a condominium high rise on the 300 block of Cleveland Street. Some council members worry the walkway could obstruct the view of Water's Edge residents.

If the new development upsets those residents, council member Jay Polglaze said, the city could face a lawsuit. Still, Polglaze said he doesn't want to see the Imagine Clearwater project delayed by a reimagination of the walkway.

City Manager Bill Horne said the council's calls for clarification without delay has put city planners in a difficult position.

"I would just not worry about delaying the project," Horne told the council at the meeting. "We can't win the battle against the constant criticism of delaying this project when you all continue to ask questions because you're trying to be very deliberate in your decision making."

The city manager stressed in a subsequent interview that resolving the walkway issue may not cause any delay at all. But if it does, Horne doesn't want to see his staff blamed for a speed bump that came as a natural part of the planning process, he said.

Planners and politicians alike are wary of delays because the Imagine Clearwater project has already suffered its share of planning setbacks. Stantec, the consultant company hired by the city to plan the project, submitted its initial design concept two months later than expected in 2018. Later last year, a debate over the scope of a potential concert pavillion at the downtown site lasted several months.

Read more: Imagine Clearwater slows to a crawl as band shell redesign stalls entire project

Today, a shakeup on the city staff could affect the Imagine Clearwater planning. The impending departure of Deputy City Manager Jill Silverboard has shifted oversight of Imagine Clearwater from Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell to Planning and Development Director Michael Delk.

Maxwell fielded questions about Imagine Clearwater from the City Council at Monday's meeting. But Delk has already begun to take the reins from his predecessor.

Delk doesn't expect the leadership change to cause any long-term delays to Imagine Clearwater. If anything, the veteran planner intends to speed things up. Delk has already started discussing how to market the former Harborview site to developers. And he said he wants city staff to be more proactive about working through council members' minor problems outside of the twice-a-month Monday work sessions.

"Monday mornings are the worst time to design a park," Delk said at the meeting.

Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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